This article compares the tactic of trashing genetically modified crops in activist campaigns in Britain and France. In Britain, most crop trashing was carried out covertly, while in France most activists undertook open, public actions. In seeking an explanation for this, the article shows that the analysis of political opportunities, dominant in comparative studies of social movements, can only take us so far. While it helps explain the occurrence of direct action, it is much less useful in explaining the tactical differences between each country. It is argued that a fuller explanation requires an understanding of how action was shaped by different activist traditions. In France, action was staged as a demonstration of serious, responsible, collective Republican citizenship; in the United Kingdom, activists combined a sceptical view of legality developing from anarchist individualism with an explicitly non-threatening, playful, ethos. The article concludes that a focus on activist traditions can provide an effective bridge between structural and cultural approaches to understanding the determinants of social movement action.